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Picking up food – don’t take the Mickey

Picking up food – don’t take the Mickey

🕔29.Nov 2018

There’s never been a Conservative Minister for Climate Change, which for many – especially younger voters – tells them everything they need to know about the party’s commitment in practice to the global issue of their/our time. Labour’s Ed Miliband and the Lib Dems’ Chris Huhne and Ed Davey, in case it was bothering you, writes Chris Game.

In opposition, David ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’ Cameron had identified climate change as a core issue, and seemed committed to creating a ‘green legacy’ that would help his mission of detoxifying the Conservatives’ image as the ‘nasty party’.

In coalition government too there was initially serious (albeit Lib Dem-led) backing for renewable energy, but then Cameron seemed gradually to lose the will to take on his own right-wing backbenchers – as sceptical of climate change as of the EU – preferring seemingly annual tax breaks for fossil fuel exploration at the inevitable cost of funding for renewables and energy efficiency.

Theresa May never even pretended, demonstrating her environmental credentials immediately on taking office by abolishing not only the minister but the whole Department for Energy and Climate Change; then later appointing as Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom, who admitted having had to ask her advisors whether climate change was real.

‘Actions speak louder’ seemed the obvious response to May’s later talk – by chance, shortly before last year’s Paris climate change summit – of the “clear moral imperative for developed economies like the UK to help those around the world who stand to lose most from the consequences of man-made climate change.”

The pre-appointment voting record of current Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, on environmental issues generally and climate change measures in particular is also unconvincing – somewhere between confused and crappy – but at least he probably didn’t have to ask for interpretation.

I concede, though, that it was partly the sheer shock of a Cabinet minister making, for the second time in a few weeks, a serious-sounding speech on something other than Brexit that made me take notice, almost as much as its actual content.

At the Conservatives’ Birmingham Conference, the Environment Secretary had rallied the troops by calling for more action “to preserve our world”.  Then, putting our money where his mouth was, he announced a £15 million food waste reduction scheme.

It turned out his targets on this occasion were the food manufacturing and retail sectors and supermarkets in particular, who, instead of throwing away “millions of tonnes of good, nutritious and edible food”, should work with industry and charities to “get up to 250 million extra meals a year on to the tables and plates of the most deserving in our society.”

This week, though, it was councils, more of whom he wanted to collect waste separately and send it to anaerobic digestion plants to create green biogas …”

It’s fair to say that this wouldn’t normally have come to my attention, featuring as it did virtually at the end of a lengthy and pretty technical speech launching the fourth generation of UK Climate Projections.

But separate food waste collections have long been quite an issue in UK local government – with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all having increased their recycling rates by introducing household food waste collections, while in England they’re available to only about a quarter of householders, with several councils – including in our own region Wolverhampton (see illustration and table below) – abandoning the practice.

The Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association (ADBA) is among the both national and international bodies that have been lobbying Gove’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to include mandatory food waste collections by local authorities as a policy proposal for its serially delayed Resources and Waste Strategy.

ADBA estimates that universal household collections would create a carbon saving of up to 1.5 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent a year, which amounts to taking three-quarters of a million cars off the road.

It’s also widely accepted that, without considerably increasing the current 4.6 million tonnes of food waste that English councils annually collect and recycle, both future carbon targets and recycling rates are even less likely to be met than they are already.

That short and almost hidden paragraph of Gove’s this week, therefore, was in its own way as eloquent as its deliverer. Yes, separate food waste collections are really good and important, and something we should all be encouraging each other to do, but are there any government spondulicks available for interested authorities?  Are there heck!

Which means that for the foreseeable future, the metropolitan West Midlands looks like being left with just the single council with an FWCS – so hats off to Sandwell!

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